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Posted: Thursday April 23, 2009 10:09AM; Updated: Thursday April 23, 2009 10:35PM
Peter King Peter King >
INSIDE THE NFL

Sifting through the draft rumors and Five Things I Think I Think

Story Highlights

Inside the numbers of the Lions' decision between Stafford and Curry

How Curry, a linebacker, will be used in the NFL is a hotly debated topic

Which players are teams trying to move up to draft and more nuggets

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Linebacker Aaron Curry may need to become more of a pass-rusher in the NFL.
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ST. LOUIS -- The athletically gifted Aaron Curry, should he be available after the first pick of Saturday's draft, is probably a serious candidate in Kansas City, Seattle and Cleveland. I see the Lions, at one, taking Matthew Stafford and St. Louis going offensive line at two.

Now, we won't know about the game of chicken at the top of the draft until at least late Thursday. Eventually we'll know if Stafford takes a deal from Detroit -- and if the Lions are serious about taking Curry with the first overall pick if there's a huge gap in negotiations with Stafford.

This is what I know about the Curry/Stafford maneuvering: Curry would sign for significantly less than Stafford at No. 1. I believe Curry would take Jake Long's deal with Miami (five years, $50 million, with $7.5 million in possible escalators, and $30 million guaranteed). Stafford would want at least $40 million guaranteed on a six-year deal, or $36 million on a five-year deal. I believe the Lions want Stafford. They have to decide if they want to pay 15 or 20 percent more for him at No. 1.

Doing the deal for Stafford makes too much sense for both the Lions and the Georgia quarterback. I get the strong feeling Detroit coach Jim Schwartz favors Stafford for the pick, and how do you think the Ford family would feel if, in position to get one of two possible franchise quarterbacks, the Lions choose a middle linebacker who's not going to be a pass-rusher? On the flip side, Stafford faces a possible precipitous fall if he doesn't go No. 1. I know of two teams in the top 10 who have Mark Sanchez graded ahead of Stafford. If he doesn't go No. 1, where will Stafford go? Ten? Or (gulp) 17 or 19? I'd be very surprised if Stafford isn't Detroit's choice.

So with Curry there after the first pick, the big variable with him is whether he can rush the passer. He lacks the classic rush-linebacker height at 6-1, but he has pass-rush speed and power. He ran a 4.53-second 40-yard dash at the combine, which is mediocre receiver speed, while weighing in at 253. He he had 9.5 sacks in 50 games at Wake Forest. There's no way he's getting picked third, fourth or fifth if his employer thinks he'll have one sack a month in the NFL.

I know the Rams, Chiefs, Seahawks and Browns have investigated Curry as a rusher. They'd be silly not to. The Rams say they're serious about considering Curry, but with a disastrous situation at offensive tackle -- franchise left tackle Orlando Pace was released and signed with Chicago, while perennial disappointment Alex Barron will be a free-agent after this season -- I can't take Curry to the Rams seriously.

It would be downright ridiculous for Kansas City GM Scott Pioli, say, at three, to take Curry if he didn't think he could provide some strong-side pass-rush, something like the third pick in the draft 25 years ago, Carl Banks, provided the New York Giants. Because if you're paying Curry third-pick-in-the-draft money (Last year's No. 3 pick, Matt Ryan, signed a six-year, $72 million deal, with $34.75 million guaranteed), he'd better be more than a strong run-support guy who can play three downs and drop into coverage.

One of the reasons teams are looking so hard at Curry is because of the caliber of person he is. I spent 45 minutes with him on the phone the other day, and either he's the biggest actor I've ever chatted up, or he's a terrific kid I'd want one of my daughters to marry. And every NFL guy I've mentioned Curry to raves about him. Even though it probably hurt his draft status, Curry told me he has no regrets about the Wake Forest defensive game plan rarely calling for him to pass-rush.

"I don't regret anything about my college career,'' Curry told me. "The coaches used me in a way that was best for the team, and on our team, it wasn't for me to rush the passer. They wanted me to play all over the field and drop. But there's no question in my mind I can rush the passer. If that's what the team I end up with wants me to do, I know I'll be able to fill that role.''

One personnel man for a team not drafting high told me Curry's value will be in his versatility. "For us,'' said the scout, who works for a team playing a 4-3, "he'd be the mike [middle] linebacker, but I know teams who'd play him strongside in either the 3-4 or 4-3. If you're playing him strongside in the 4-3, that means you think he's a LaMarr Woodley type, a guy you could use, like the Steelers, rushing or playing the run or dropping. The only thing I'm not sure he can do is rush the passer.''

Curry's less of a gamble than Stafford because quarterbacks fail at a higher percentage high in the draft than do linebackers. It's hard to imagine him being a bust. But for Curry to earn the money he'd make being a top five pick, he'd have to be some pass-rush threat. And that's why I can promise you the teams at the top aren't finished studying him and talking abut him internally now, two days before the draft.

***

On this long draft weekend (or is it Christmas in April?), you can follow me four ways:

• Online: I'll be writing a short column, plus Five (Draft) Things I Think I Think, today, Friday and Saturday. On Friday afternoon, I'll post the mock draft I did for this week's Sports Illustrated, with my last-minute adjustments. During the first day of the draft, I'll join the SI.com team of bloggers, a dozen writers in nine cities, with frequent observations and short points about the draft. I'll be mostly quiet through the night Saturday and Sunday while working on my Sports Illustrated draft story and Monday Morning Quarterback, which we'll post early Monday morning.

• On Twitter: Follow me at SI_PeterKing. (I see I've already sucked in about 3,000 of you, including Steelers fan extraordinaire Laura King of Los Angeles.) If I hear things I want to get out right away -- such as the Tuesday Tweet that Josh McDaniels had taken ill and did not accompany the Denver traveling party to Los Angeles to work out Mark Sanchez -- I'll throw them up on Twitter and SI.com immediately. If you're a Twitterer, you noted (and please do not tell my bosses) how I Tweeted between Bud Lights from Mets-Cards last night at Busch Stadium.

• On the radio: You can catch me on Sirius/XM NFL Radio Monday on The Opening Drive from 8-11 a.m. ET, and on a few shows over the weekend, including KJR in Seattle with Mitch Levy this morning at 8:30 a.m. PST, Mad Dog Live today with Chris Russo on Sirius/XM at 4:20 p.m. ET.

• On TV: I'm doing Pardon the Interruption Friday with Wilbon and Kornheiser on ESPN at 5:30 p.m. ET.

***

Now for my five things for Thursday:

1. I think there are four players teams want to trade up for: Mark Sanchez, Tyson Jackson, Michael Oher, Brandon Pettigrew.

2. I think the Rams won't take Sanchez, but they'll be very, very tempted. I do not make this claim lightly: The Rams' offensive tackle situation is the worst situation for any team at any one position in football. And they're staring two very good left tackles -- Jason Smith, Eugene Monroe -- in the face at No. 3. They have to take a tackle. Have to.

3. I think there's only one thing of substance I find myself on the other side of the fence from godfather-of-the-draft Gil Brandt this morning: He says Josh Freeman's going in the top 10. I say he'll last until 17 or 19, at least.

4. I think it's hard not to love the Patriots being positioned the way they are -- at overall slots 23, 34, 47 and 58 -- on Day 1. Increasingly over the years, the value of low first-round picks, and all the picks in the second round, has grown. Someday I've got to study the true impact of the second round versus the first, because as Chicago GM Jerry Angelo told me recently, the value of first-rounders has decreased in his eyes because you can't tell how players will change when they get a boatload of money at age 21 or 22.

But New England will surely hit it rich on one of their first-day picks. Check out some of the names taken in the last two decades with that 34th pick, for instance: Carnell Lake, Amani Toomer, Jamie Sharper, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Chris Snee, D'Qwell Jackson.

5. I think the NFL is creating a nice little storyline with the first round, inviting nine players to the city. The league will never admit it, but you can be sure it's thinking, "We hope one or two of these guys fall. That'll be a great plot twist.'' Brian Cushing, perhaps?

 
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